Should the host for your website or blog be geographically located in Canada? A lot of people believe this is essential but it’s not. In fact, it may work against you.
This short article describes some factors to consider if you’re looking for information about having a .ca domain name, wondering about the effectiveness of a .ca name for reaching Canadian consumers, wishing to support Canadian companies, or have privacy concerns.
Hosting is not the same thing as having a .ca name
Hosting has nothing to do with having a .ca name. You can register for a .ca name but still host outside Canada.
Having a .ca domain name is a good idea if:
• you have a service or company of interest mainly to people in Canada
• you provide services or products where Canadian branding is important
• you are not very interested in providing services outside Canada
• you have a strong reason why you want people to know your company is in Canada
You must register for a .ca name with a company in Canada that has been licensed to sell .ca names by CIRA. You must have a Canadian street address and phone. But you don’t need to host with the same company, and it may be preferable not to host in Canada.
Search engine optimization and .ca names
If you have reason to believe the majority of your market uses a Canadian search engine like Yahoo.ca, then having a .ca address may help your site come up on Canadian search engine results above sites outside Canada.
Be aware this also depends on how well your search engine optimization has been done. Proper search engine optimization using key words like Canada, Canadian, British Columbia, BC, Vancouver (or any other Canadian city) will result in similar rankings without having a .ca name. The .ca name alone is usually not sufficient.
Factors to consider when choosing a host
A host is a company that owns servers (computers) where your website files are stored. The choice of a host should be made on factors like the quality of their servers and their position on the Internet.
The majority of requests to servers in Canada are routed through the States and back again. You should think about the geographic location of your target market, and choose a host geographically located close to both your target market and the Internet backbone. A server’s proximity or “hops” to the internet backbone are equally important. A low number of hops ensures fast and efficient connections between your visitor’s computer and your server’s location.
The image above was taken from a traceroute program that connected a computer in Vancouver, BC to a host called Netfirms in Ontario. If your target market is in Vancouver BC and you host with Netfirms, your target market would have to make 15 Internet hops to reach their server (and 15 more for the files to be sent back to them). Conversely, if your clients are in BC, we can offer them a local server based in Vancouver.
Canadian hosts are not necessarily located in Canada
Many people host with companies because they advertise as Canadian companies, and people want to support businesses located in Canada. Canadian hosting companies, however, do not usually use servers in Canada. Most Canadian host companies use servers located outside Canada, usually in the UK or the States.
Popular hosts like GoDaddy.ca (Arizona), Justhost (Utah), Hostmonster (Utah) and Fat Cow (Massachusetts) spend vast amounts of money promoting themselves as Canadian web hosts but in fact their servers are geographically located in the United States, as your own files will be as well.
In addition, many Canadian hosting companies outsource their support services to other countries. So signing up for a Canadian host because they advertise “superior Canadian service” really may not be to your advantage, because the representatives may actually be in foreign countries.
We regularly see companies charge insane amounts of money for plans they call “Gold”, “Platinum”, “Advanced” or other names assigned to a “level” of service. We frequently see Canadian companies charging more than $40/month for service that should cost less than $7/month, and there is no practical reason for it.
Concerns about the Patriot Act
Many people express concerns about the Patriot Act and its implications for the content on their websites. But if the pages of your website are public, the information is available to everyone anyways. If the information on your site is private, such as information stored in a database, only citizens of the US are subject to the Patriot Act. Neither citizens of the US nor hosts in the US are required by law to give up usernames and passwords.
Concerns about privacy
People who are concerned about hosting in Canada for reasons of “privacy” on the Internet often do not realize the amount of information that is already accessible about them on servers spread across the States.
Most people use online services that store enormous amounts of history about their activities. The information you post on your Facebook account, Linked in, Twitter or any of the hundreds of other social media accounts is stored on servers in the States. It is accessed and used by companies you’ll never know about.
If you use Google docs, Flickr or Youtube, your content is on American servers. If you use Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo mail, copies of all of your emails are being stored on US servers. Credit card information for multinational corporations is routinely stored on US servers. Every time you register software or other online product, you are likely registering it on a US server. Web analytics tools like Google Analytics store your visitor information on US servers. If you belong to a professional organization, like the Kitsilano Chamber of Commerce, your membership information and event photos are likely stored on a US server (in their case, Texas). By comparison, the information on most websites is pretty innocent and, by nature, in the public domain already.
In summary, small companies and individuals should be more concerned about the quality and qualifications of the host’s servers, getting good value for their money (shared hosting for $9.95/month or less, with no limitations on storage or bandwidth), and the host’s geographic proximity to Internet hubs.